20th Feb 2020 in Business

Breastival, the fun-filled summer family festival is back at the NI Science Festival this February, offering two fascinating talks: on breastfeeding cultures and the microbiology of human milk.

On Saturday 22 February, in the first of two talks, Breastival hosts Dr. Simon Cameron, and ‘Food for Thought – the Microbiology of Milk’ at the Black Box in Belfast. Cameron is inviting people to discover the amazing world of the microbiology of human milk and explore the unique compounds that make breastmilk so special.

Simon, who featured in Channel 4 Dispatches documentary “Breastfeeding Uncovered” alongside Kate Quilton in 2018, recently joined Queens University Belfast to study the microbiology of milk.

In this interactive session, current nursing mums will also have a chance to participate in new research to help us learn more about human milk.  Very little is known about the good bacteria that is in human milk and its role in helping babies reach their full potential in terms of health and development.  For Dr Cameron to carry out his research and better understand milk as a living substance, he needs fresh breastmilk.

Dr Cameron is asking volunteers to come along to the event at the Black Box and express milk into containers either by hand or by taking breast pumps with them to the event. Then a swab will be dipped into the milk and then spread onto an agar plate.  Cameron will then take away the samples, incubate them and share the pictures on Facebook and Twitter.

Speaking in advance of the event Cameron said, “Human milk has evolved to meet the needs of the newborn infant, and it is something that we simply cannot replicate in the laboratory or factory. In addition to providing all the nutrition a newborn needs, human milk is also the first food that the gut microbiome receives. It contains hundreds of different sugars that are used as an energy source to help the gut microbiome develop and which we are now understanding as being an essential building block of a functioning immune system.

Human milk also contains different species of microbes which do not cause disease; but instead help train the new-born’s immune system to defend against potentially harmful pathogens.

Growing these microbes in the lab though is very difficult and the research project being launched at the Science Festival is looking at new ways that this can be done. Breastfeeding mums will get to see first-hand how we can grow these microbes and help shape the direction of future research in this crucial area.”

Also, at the Blackbox that day, Breastival hosts Dr. Lesley Dornan who will be taking participants through a fascinating journey through different cultures and how they feed their babies.

Dornan, a lecturer at Ulster University studied women, babies, and milk in different cultures in South East Asia where mothers milk is valued and cherished. Lesley will be joined by Breastival co-founder Dr. Jennifer Hanratty for a discussion on our culture and how it impacts women’s choices in feeding their babies.

Speaking ahead of the event Dr Dornan said:

“Culture influences us in many ways through the values, beliefs and messages which we observe and receive daily. These influences can have a far-reaching impact on breastfeeding choices and practices through individual, family and community voices which can encourage or dissuade mothers from breastfeeding.

This can affect maternal values and self-confidence which are needed to overcome barriers such as positioning your baby, overcoming milk supply issues and breastfeeding in a variety of settings. Breastfeeding mums will have the opportunity to explore both local and global influences and practices as well as current and new international research into breastfeeding, motivation and culture through an interactive workshop and discussions”.

Breastival which is back for a second year at NI Science Festival, aims to normalise what has sometimes been a controversial subject in Northern Ireland. Despite the NHS and World Health Organisation recommendation that children be breastfed until the age of two and beyond, only 7% of children in Northern Ireland are breastfed past six months. More and more women are choosing to breastfeed but many of them will stop before they want to.

Co-founder of Breastival, Jennifer Hanratty, says

“We know that culture has a big influence on how families choose to feed their babies. In Northern Ireland, where bottle feeding is the norm, it seems that we don’t really value breastfeeding. So, when women face challenges, because breastfeeding isn’t always easy, support comes in the form of a bottle and breastfeeding is instantly undermined.

It is great to be back at the Science Festival again this year as one of the many satellite events Breastival runs throughout the year.  This great pair of talks will explore the value of breastfeeding. From considering the contrast between our culture and cultures where breastfeeding is venerated to uncovering the fascinating microbiology of the ultimate superfood, human milk.”

Tickets are still available for both events and you can get your tickets at the NI Science Festival website at https://nisciencefestival.com/events.php?days=22

The two events take place at the Black Box on Saturday 22 February.  ‘Women Don’t Breastfeed’ talk with Dr Lesley Dornan is from 11am – 12:30pm.   Dr Simon Cameron’s talk takes place at 2pm -3:30pm.  £3 for each event of £5 for both. Babes in arms are more than welcome to attend.

Discounted tickets are also available for those in Sure Start areas by using the code SURESTART.

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